What Are the Oldest Languages in the World?
Everything has to start somewhere, even the language we take for granted every day. There is no scientific consensus on when we first developed language, but most scientists agree that that language is so complex that one cannot imagine it simply appearing from anything in its final form, but that it must have evolved from earlier pre-linguistic systems among our pre-human ancestors.
It might surprise you to learn that some of the first languages we developed from these earlier pre-linguistic systems are still used today and, in this article, we’ll be taking a look at them.
Tamil – 5000 years old
Tamil is both 5000 years old and still the official language in Sri Lanka and Singapore, spoken by 78 million people on a daily basis. Tamil originated as part of the Dravidian family of languages, which comprises of some native southern and eastern dialects and is also one of the many official languages of India.
Sanskrit – 5000 years old
The written counterpart to the spoken Tamil language, Sanskrit is not in modern use outside of liturgical functions, in a manner similar to Latin. The script fell out of common usage around 600 B.C, but the earliest known written evidence of it is the Rigveda, a collection of Vedic Sanskrit hymns that were written down somewhere around the 2nd millennium B.C.
Egyptian – 5000 years old
The Ancient Egyptians are one of the world’s oldest civilizations to make significant use of writing as part of everyday life and Egyptian Coptic is the oldest indigenous language of Egypt.
We have plenty of evidence of this ancient language being used because of the wealth of official documents that date back as far as 3400 BC. Coptic fell out of use in the late 17th century AD when it was replaced by Egyptian Arabic.
Hebrew – 3000 years old
Hebrew is unique in that it is one of the few languages to have fallen out of use only to have had a revival. Originally used as an administrative language during the rise of the Persian Empire, Hebrew lost common usage around 400 CE and was preserved only as a liturgical language for Jews across the world.
However, with the rise of Zionism in the 19th and 20th centuries, Hebrew was brought back into common usage in Isreal and is the country’s official language. Modern Hebrew is fairly different from its ancient ancestors but most native speakers of the language can completely comprehend what is written in the ancient texts.
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Fernando Herbert, B.A.
Spanish Language Consultant